The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton, San Francisco (January 2009)

When a restaurant borders on perfection, maintaining that status is a constant challenge. For one thing, complacency can set in, with the kitchen mindlessly pumping out the same dishes and forcing diners to see those dishes ad nauseam. Fortunately, Ron Siegel’s creations are novel enough to be enjoyed a second time.

Judging by the conversations at surrounding tables, it seems The Dining Room benefits from a loyal customer base. After finishing our two hour and fifty minute tour de force, only a handful of tables remained unoccupied – a heartening sight in a recessionary economy.

Salty and fried, this amuse unbeknown to me at the time served as a portent for forthcoming dishes. 

Artichoke and black truffle dumplings
Sea urchin is a delicacy, but the taste of unripened peach just does not peak my interest. A touch of vanilla oil countered the panna cotta’s bitterness. 
Sea urchin panna cotta with vanilla oil

From the blend of classic ingredients to the nouveau technique, I love everything about this in vitro dish. 
Poached quail egg with osetra caviar, cedar smoke, chives, and croutons
Sturgeon roe in consecutive dishes is a first for me. The soup’s texture was velvety with briny and slightly floral notes. A sourdough bread roll filled in the textural lacuna, finalizing a great first course. 
Chilled salsify with osetra caviar and oysters
White truffle, abalone, and sunchoke soup

This course is notable for its contrasting temperatures–a hottish piece of fried mollusk atop a gelid terrine, concealed with a lukewarm foam. 

Stupid clam and a white miso terrine with scallions and creamy clam bubbles
Everyone knows that toro is highly prized, but also overfished. Chef Siegel and a few other chefs, thus, opt for kindai, a farmed and more sustainable–yet no less expensive–variety. 
Kindai tuna, pink peppercorns, and freshly grated wasabi
Crispy prawn head and a meyer lemon reduction

Yet another fried offering, this reminded me of posh fish and chips. 

Turbot fin with salsify
Thanks to a generous taste courtesy of my mother, I relished the cod’s melt-in-your-mouth texture. 
Black cod
While I enjoyed my lobster tail, mainly due to the veal cheeks, it paled in comparison to the black truffle covered claw.
Butter poached Maine lobster tail with veal cheek and squash purée
Black truffles governed my palate, followed by subtle hints of buttery lobster. 
Butter poached Maine lobster claw with black truffle
Fruit and foie go together like bread and butter, so naturally this dish was a favorite. 
Foie gras with brioche, pickled huckleberries, and pineapple jus
Duck has graced my plate a little too frequently lately to earn notability. 
Duck breast with pickled elderberries, leeks and matsutake mushrooms

The quail reminded me of lean chicken thigh meat. 

Quail

I started with the crispy sliver of skin, whose crepitation must have been audible to adjacent tables. Then, as I looked at these diminutive chops, my mind generated the following image: every chef who serves suckling pig giving his or her middle finger to PETA. 

Suckling pig pork chops with crispy skin, and a pork jus
Steak with citrus you ask. Yes, and it worked. 
Ribeye with ponzu sauce
Though I am familiar with sodium alginate through Ferran Adria’s concoctions, I had yet to experience spherical “caviar.” It was quite the sensory surprise, looking at what resembles caviar and then to taste an acidic paroxysm. 
Apple sorbet with quince pearls
Beet sorbet
Since I knew the formidable petit four trolley would soon greet us, I futilely hoped for another savory course. 
Chocolate hazelnut fondant
The hibiscus provided a eupeptic touch to the dessert.
Quince sorbet and hibiscus gelée with whiskey pearls
Petite fours

Dining at the Ritz Carlton made for a seamless return to Northern California, even though Michael Bauer, the Chronicle’s restaurant critic, recently removed The Dining Room from his Bay Area Top 100 over rumors that Ron Siegel might leave. Our server said negotiations took place, but nothing has come of it yet. If Bauer’s sources are correct, I exhort Berkeleyans and San Franciscans to experience the finely tuned orchestra that Chef Siegel conducts.

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